Monday, July 13, 2009

Daring Cooks' #3 Molecular Cuisine

This is a dish from Grant Achatz, found in the Alinea cookbook - page 230. The Challenge: Skate, traditional flavors powdered Sketchy our month's host picked a recipe that could be completed without having to order a bunch of specialized chemicals or powders. Just a little work and you can make this, the techniques are not very hard and only require a few tools. Basically the challenge is to make some powders from herbs, spices and fruit and to use these to add flavour bursts to 'fish' poached in butter served with beans and bananas.


Molecular cuisine
MC is roughly the science of cuisine and can be detailed (this is from Wikipedia)

MC Current objectives:
Looking for the mechanisms of culinary transformations and processes (from a chemical and physical point of view) in three areas:

* 1. the social phenomena linked to culinary activity
* 2. the artistic component of culinary activity
* 3. the technical component of culinary activity

MC people place a lot of importance on understanding taste and the science of cooking and have uncovered many common misconceptions about cooking

Myths debunked:

* You need to add salt to water when cooking green vegetables
* Searing meat seals in the juices
* The cooking time for roast meat depends on the weight
* When cooking meat stock you must start with cold water

Also it seems to me that there is an importance on new textures and tastes and how to make common ingredients behave in very novel ways. Such as beetroot foam and popcorn/butter condensation and even making oranges taste like licquorice! Generally the methods are high chemistry with lots of 'cultural constructs' thrown in.

Food and its properties are a hard thing to change in people's minds - this is why this challenge is so hard for many of us it's right outside our comfort zones. Who really wants to eat a 'chocolate cake' foam I actually like cake to have the texture of cake and a popcorn/butter condensation well what's wrong with the old stuff I like the texture and I know what to expect see the point of this challenge. The MC movement is about shaking the old ways and trying to understand the basic properties of cuisine.

Wow what a taste and culinary sensation this MC (molecular cuisine) recipe is - it seems your mouth becomes a full taste spectrum sensorium i.e. refers to the sum of your perceptions, the sensorium is the "seat of sensation" where you experience and interpret the total environment. These powders are a sensory enhancement device!!! And I thought this was going to be dry (too much dry powder) and flavourless (just poached fish) and a lot of work for not much worth and also the whole MC movement I thought was a tad too trendy full of hot air, spin and shallow poseurs – girl was I WRONG. It is totally worth it. Somehow the dry powders stimulates the production of saliva in the mouth (and the butter and beans and bananas have lots of moisture also) so they increase the sensation of flavours so taste itself is amplified. Every mouthful was a revelation in contrasts between the six tastes and the textures of the fish. MC is a very smart and cunning way of stimulating the olfactory sensorium to experience what isn't there I understand it a lot more after this trial run.

See here to view a posting of this recipe with loads of details and photos.

Since there is some effort in the drying (mainly time and some attention) of the herbs etc I did a lot of different powders that cover the entire taste senorium – the three opposite taste pairs that we can distinguish, bitter/salty, sweet/sour and umami/linoleic acid (not everybody agrees with these combinations but I do more or less). So I made powders that exemplified these tastes I made them in the oven (8 hrs at 130F seemed to do the trick half way through turn the herbs over) and microwave (takes only a few minutes but not as good as the oven drying I felt it seemed to heat the herbs and not dry them and watch very carefully they will burn) and used a mortar and pestle it didn't take that long to grind them at all. The kitchen smells wonderful when you are grinding the powders this is just worth the effort alone.

Starting from the top clockwise – * indicates home-dried the others were from store-brought dried products
Chives* (this has a superb taste of garlic and onion together my absolute favourite you must try it!)
Parsley* (nice herb taste)
Strawberry* (again subtle and only a little sweet)
Kelp (a subtle sea taste add salty)
Salted persevered sweet olive (this has a fantastic taste very complex adds salty)
Ginger* (excellent a tangy bitter taste)
Oregano* (a nice herb taste)
Lemon* (a sweet sour lemon taste)
Smoked Paprika (most excellent adds a brilliant deep flavouring to everything)
Centre Left Cloud mushroom (adds umami tastes) Centre Right Banana*

And of course fish is rich in linoleic acid and other fatty acids.

So clearly there is some sense in the way MC recipes are constructed.

Powders spread out on the plate I tried to arrange them in a taste spectrum going clockwise from the red smoked paprika. Practice with shifted flour first until you are confident in making the pattern you want. There is a reason why it looks like an American Indian chief's head-dress as one of my guests is connected and he asked for it!

The plated MC recipe was delicious (this could be because I was expecting so little of it) I used ling fish (a type of shark) and I did two toppings for the fish 1.baked full cream milk powder on the fish with beans and 2. baked coconut cream milk powder on the fish with bananas. I like the coconut cream milk powder a lot better.
It was fun to eat small pieces of fish and 'dipping' them into the different powders and the banana and the beans are also excellent in the powders and also near the end of the dish it is fun to mix all the powders together and taste the concoction that is created. And no it wasn't too dry - I never noticed I was eating a lot of powder with the other moist ingredients. A wonderful balance of tastes, textures and moisture levels. Just make sure the fish portion is big enough so you don't run out of it and have a lot of powder left over.

Yes I will be doing some more varieties to see the tastes I can get. Thank you Sketchy for a most fascinating and illuminating challenge.

I decided to do another dish it is one of my all time favourites Thai Beef Salad (Yam Neua) I make it at least once a fortnight (more often during summer) it has a lot of ingredients and the salad dressing was very hard to do as a powder but after 3 attempts it worked out fine. This was an entrée for an afternoon lunch it was very good and my guests thought it was very unusual and a nice surprise. They give it a 9/10 which was a huge compliment since they are (mostly) café and restaurant owners.

I asked about and one of my mates (who owns a restaurant) has an industrial sized dehydrator so I went over (since my oven broke down from overuse poor thing) and did a whole lot of bunches of herbs, vegetables and spices it took between 2 and 6 hours. I should mention that about 150grams (a typical bunch) of herbs only gives about 7 grams of end-product. Every powder shown was home-made in the dehydrator except the sesame seeds.

Above Starting from the outside circle the top red powder going clockwise –
mild red roasted chilli
peanuts and candelnuts
Thai basil
lemon grass with Kaffir lime leaves
carrot and pumpkin and a touch of saffron
Above Inside circle starting with the white seeds
sesame seeds
hot chilli powder
chilli flakes
Above Centre
Thai beef salad dressing (the black central) powder (this was an effort to make I had to put in mushrooms and kelp to get that umami taste with the sweet/sour/salty/bitter baseline). A combination of red chillies, garlic, kelp, fish sauce reduced to a powder, lime peel and (a lot of) palm sugar, black mushroom, nigella seeds, shrimp paste and oyster sauce reduce everything and dry in the dehydrator (or oven) until you get almost a powder check often and finish in a warm place. It goes from tasting good as a dressing then totally disgusting while being reduced and then back to good. It is so strong tasting use only a little bit at a time.

Below Some artful arranging on a plate.

Below Final dish

My third try was octopus with fresh seaweed and bananas as an entrée for a BBQ lunch.

The arranged powders on the plate - red powder is mild chilli and red capsium, white ginger, light green chives, very dark green almost black seaweed and pepper this really has a kick to it, yellow lemon and saffron. I didn't use any milk/coconut powder had run out.

I also coated the octopus in the various powders before BBQing I had some fresh and BBQ fried bananas which was very nice with this dish (a pleasant surprise).

The plated octopus

Overall a delightful side dish for lunch the seaweed and pepper powder was my fav though most people liked the mild chilli/capsium. Everybody loved it (that is people who like octopus in the first place LOL). Audax

Onto the recipe:

Skate, Traditional Flavors Powdered - with changes
4 skate wings
* Beurre monte
* 300g fresh green beans
sea salt/kosher salt
1 banana
454g butter - 4 sticks
300g lemons
5g citric acid/vitamin c tablet
150g cilantro
150g parsley
100g dried banana chips
300g spray dried cream powder (or powdered milk)
100g cup minced red onion
200g capers (brined, not oil)
* For green beans, slice each beans into very thin rounds (2 mm)
* Beurre Monte - 454g butter (4 sticks, 1 pound) cubed and cold, 60g water. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, remove from heat and whisk in the butter 1 cube at a time. This should from an emulsion. Keep this heated, but under 195 degrees. The emulsion will not break - this is your poaching liquid.

Powders - prepare ahead of time
caper / onion
lemon powder
cilantro/parsley powder
'brown butter' powder

Once dried, all powders should be pulsed in a coffee grinder/spice mill/morter and pestle then passed through a chinois or fine mesh strainer.
citrus powder
300g lemons
1000g simple syrup
5g citric acid/vitamin c tablet
zest 300g of lemons (10.6 oz), remove the pith from the zest and poach in the simple syrup three times. dry with paper towels and move to a dehydrating tray. 130 for 12 hours. pulse the zest in a coffee grinder, pass through chinois, and mix with citric acid/vitamin C powder.
If you do not have a dehydrator, place in microwave for 8 to 10 minutes at medium powder. Once dried, follow the other instructions.

cilantro/parsley powder
150g cilantro
150g parsley
blanch the parsley in boiling saltwater for 1 second, submerge the leaves in ice water for 3 minutes. Dry on paper towels and place on dehydrator tray. 130 for 12 hours. grind and pass through chinois.
If you do not have a dehydrator, place in microwave for 30 seconds, turn over leaves and microwave for another thirty seconds. They should be dry by now, pulse in coffee grinder, pass through chinois and reserve.

onion powder
100g cup minced red onions
dehydrator - 130 for 12 hours
microwave at medium power for 20 minutes.
pulse in grinder, pass through chinois

Caper powder
200g capers (get the ones packed in brine/vinegar)
run the capers under cold water for two minutes to remove some of the brine.
dry on paper towels and dehydrate for 12 hours at 130 degrees.
microwave instructions are unclear. Dry them as much a possible with paper towels, the microwave on medium for 1 minute. Check the moisture content and stir them. repeat for 30 second intervals until they are dry. If you use this method, pleas post the time needed to dry the capers.
Once dry, pulse and sift the powder. Mix it with the onion powder.

Brown Butter powder
100g Dried banana chips (unsweetened if possible - many are coated in honey - the freeze dried ones would be brilliant)
300g spray dried cream powder
If you cannot find the cream powder, you can substitute Bob's red mill non fat dry milk powder, or even carnation instant milk powder. The substitutions will alter the flavor a little, but you will still get the general idea.
preheat the oven to 350 degrees, sift the cream powder into a fine layer on a silpat or on parchment. bake for 4 minutes, then remove for heat. If it bakes for too long, it will burn. Be very cautious with all powders in the oven. They all go from browned to burnt in a few seconds.
grind the banana chips in a coffee grinder and mix with the toasted cream powder. Pass this through a chinois and reserve.

* For green beans, slice each beans into very thin rounds (2 mm)

* Beurre Monte - 454g butter (4 sticks, 1 pound) cubed and cold, 60g water. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, remove from heat and whisk in the butter 1 cube at a time. This should from an emulsion. Keep this heated, but under 195 degrees. The emulsion will not break - this is your poaching liquid.

Prepare the skate - 50G v shaped cuts are recommended
Bring 100g water, 100g beurre monte, and green bean rounds to a boil over high heat. Cook until the water has evaporated (about 3 minutes), when the pan is almost dry, remove it from heat and season with 3g salt
bring 300g water and 300g beurre monte to simmer over medium heat, add skate wings and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and flip the wing over and let rest in pan for two more minutes. Transfer to warming tray lined with parchment and season with 5 grams of fine sea salt.

Take the tip of a small spoon and make a small mound of the citrus powder, the onion-caper powder, and the cilantro parsley-powder. Swirl these around in a hurricane type pattern. I found that it is easier, and you get finer lines if you lightly shake the plate to flatten out the mounds, then swirl the spoon through it to get the pattern.
peel the remaining banana into very think slices (3mm) fan three slices on the plate, place green beans on top and place skate wing portion on top. On the tall edge, sprinkle the brown butter powder.

The Skate can be replaced with flounder or cod.
If you can get skate that is not 'prepared' IE - Skinned- get the fish monger to prepare it for you.
The powdered cream can be omitted completely, just replace it with more banana powder, or pineapple powder. Possibly non dairy creamer, but I have NO idea what would happen if you tried to brown it.
The poaching liquid is pretty much butter - it could be replaced with other poaching methods. Water, wine, bay leaf, garlic clove, pepper, etc. Try to go easy on the salt in the liquid if you use a replacement.
Disclaimer - the sample dish was made with cod because Skate was not available at the time in Richmond. Whole Foods usually carries it. Check your fish markets before you head out to buy some.


vibi said...

How very interesting!!! WOW!

I just bought a book (in French), written by François Chartier, the only Canadian (Quebecer) ever to be pronounced best wine taster in the world by the French winery guild. His book is all about molecules in food and wines. He's been working for numerous years closely with Ferran Adria, to finally decript foods' and wines' molecules... therefore, mint and anis share some identical molecules, just as celeri, basil, parsley, etc. share those same molecules. In the end, it is all about why some flavours go so well together. Like strawberries and pineapple being molecular cousins and complementing so well some specific white wine, for example (Obviously I'm not through reading, but it is all very interesting, just like your post!).

Bravo! I love how wide your horizons are openned!

Steph said...

I loved what you did! I could never plate so many different types of spices without taking an eternity to decide where everything should go. This was a really interesting daring cook's challenge and you did such an amazing job.

Faery said...

Wow I am nicely impressed with all this colors, all these flavors and technique. You are an artist I love how you arranged those powders on the plate, This is really interesting,Audax you did a great job as always.
A big hug from Venezuela

Audax said...

@ Vibi now that is interesting information will look it up and thanks for the comments
@ Steph yes this was a very intriguing challenge way outside my comfort zone though once into it it was easy I thought
@ Faery A big hug back from Australia

Eat4Fun said...

Another great job on a challenge! You really delve into the challenge trying variations. It must be your scientist mind at work! :)

Trissa said...

Great Stuff Audax - very instructional and I don't know how any daring cook could have made it without your instructions!!

Lisa said...

Aus, your entry is a rainbow of colors and flavors, not to mention beauty! I'm always in awe when I see the results of your cchallenge, which you continue to play with the rest of the month after finishing! I LOVE that you used octopus in one of your preps, and those flowery-pinwheel powder designs are simply stunning! You're so creative. OH, I totally agree about the chives, as they kicked up my scalllion powder quite a bit!

Luna said...

I love the starburst arraignment of the powders. So very attractive. I bet the bbq octopus was great. The powders sure made things look so pretty!

Sweet Kitchen said...

Spectacular! You make it look so easy! Thanks for all your tips and encouragement in the forums - couldn't have done it without you.

Angie said...

Daaaaang, Audax! Your attempts look great, as always. I love that you try the challenges a number of times. And I need to take plating tips from you! Way to go on your 3rd challenge!

Valérie said...

Spectacular presentation and flavours, Audax! I love the "Indian chief" plating! Thank you also for all your tips and advice on the forums, which I am sure helped everyone, myself included.

Anonymous said...

Audax, your powders look really splendid! Every plate looks like a painting. Thanks for sharing your experience and food porn!

Simone said...

Audax, thanks for your comments! Your dishes turned out beautifully. I am tempted to give this challenge another try - your variations are inspirational!

Markus said...

Good post and nice follow-ups (me and the other darers have of course seen picies of the original recipe before, since you take no more than 24 hours to complete the challenges and then spend the rest of the month coaching the rest of us :-)

abby said...

great job audax!

Caren said...

Thank you for your encouragement. Your attempts and posts were very inspiring and informative and most definitely a sign to say that this was not a suicidal challenge!

Anonymous said...

I just love how you took this and ran with it! Your photos of the different powders are just beautiful - they look like paint pigments about to be used to paint a most beautiful palette! I would really love to have a dehydrator, and I know that if I were to have one I would play with this concept more.
Bravo for a wonderful and inspiring challenge (as always!).

Angela/Isolated Foodie said...

Great, great variations on this theme, Audax! I love that you dipped the octopi in the different powders as well and made tentacle-like designs with the powders for that one.

Anonymous said...

Reading your post reminded me that I was contemplating a Thai curry version.

All of your versions look tasty.

Debyi said...

Wow, you really went all out! I really love the flower design with the octopus. Great job.

Corry said...

As always, Fantastic!!!!!! work and so much of it and so early on in the piece. I wasn't going to do it and procratinated about it. It took me so far out of my comfort zone - but having you as a guide and mentor is wonderful. Thanks so much Audax Artifex.You are an inspiration to all of us.

Phoo-D said...

Wow, you went crazy with the powders! I'm very impressed. Love the use of coconut milk powder on the fish- I imagine that really enhanced the flavor. Also love your "fireworks" presentation of the powders- beautifully done!

Debbie said...

It was your recreation of the Thai Beef Salad dressing that inspired me on to make my "salsa" and "ketchup". I follow along closely on the Daring Kitchen forums and always love to read about your experiences aloing the way. For me, they are a great guide to the challenge at hand. Thanks ... Debbie

sketchy said...

Excellent work Audax! I hope this is part of your comfort zone now. At least the an option for experimenting without too much fear :D

Michele said...

As always, you are the master of the DC challenge! Wow! Great job-I'm very impressed.

art and lemons said...

Your powder plates remind me of a scenic color palette for paints, except its even better because you can dip bits of this and that in it and enjoy all the taste sensations you've created! Amazing!

Anonymous said...

OMG! Look at all of those BEAUTIFUL powders!!
Your post suggests you have found a new arena for your cooking talents....which one of the "powders" were you most surprised with? Did any of the powders taste nothing like their fresh counterpart?
Those pictures would make some really jazzy kitchen posters!

Sue said...

Wow, This culinary experiment looks like a plate of fireworks, for the eyes and the palate! Amazing!

Ninette said...

Audax, I'm passing on the Kreativ Blogger award to you. Come to my blog and check it out, and thank you for your wonderful blog and help and encouragment in Daring Cooks.

Kris Ngoei said...

Great job! I should say I admire your spirit for every single DB/DC challenge! You really put 110%! Look at the range of your powdering! Impressive!


KayB said...

Audax, that's a very comprehensive entry and kudos for the many variations!

Kat^..^ said...

wow wow WOW! I love how you delved into this challenge and tried different proteins and powders. The star bursts (with the octopus) is a beauty. This was a fun and interesting challenge opening up my mind to all sorts of ideas, including desserts ... moist pound cake with fruit and spice powders ..???!! (the mind races!!!)

Blondie said...

Wow - so much information! I have been following your comments on the DK forum and I am just in awe of how quickly you are able to complete the challenges (and to what depth) It truely makes for a great understanding and appreciation for the recipe and technique.
Your plating is just beautiful and I can hardly wait to see what you have done with the next challenge! See you in the Forum!

oneordinaryday said...

Wow. Very informative. Thanks.

Lauren said...

Wow!! What can I say - you did an amazing job with this challenge =D. I love all of the different powders you made, they all sound divine!!

Jude said...

So impressive... All of those intensely flavored powders on one plate.

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Michigan Food Blog said...

wow, u really outdid urself on this one. I love making powders. recently made some nutella powder.